Xu Guangqi’s treatise on agriculture

🏷  Chinese · text   —   by Gerry · Sep 2021 · 1489 words

Xu Guangqi’s “treatise on agriculture” is an example of late Chinese pun-encryption, of which I managed to decrypt a tiny part. On the surface, it deals with the Chinese myth about how the god of farming taught the ancient people how to use plows. For imperial governance, that’d be completely useless. Why did such a powerful & spooky statesman write such a lengthy mythical text? As usual, it’s really a pun-encrypted treatise on spookery, i.e. about why & how the rulers feign to be “little people”.


In Ancient China, the imperial examinations for government officials inexplicably involved writing poetry. The explanation is likely that all these exams were really testing the applicants’ encryption skills.

One late example of Chinese encryption may be Xu Guangqi’s 農政全書 nóngzhèng quánshū “treatise on agriculture”. It starts with the myth about how the Chinese god of agriculture taught the people how to plough, but makes no real point about it. Under the hood, it seems to be yet another treatise about spookery, with the 神農氏 shénnóngshì “god of agriculture” being misused as a spooky pun-encryption for the 甡農事 shēn nóngshì “multitudes of peasants” who are being deceived.

This treatise doesn’t come from a nobody: Wikipedia explicitly states that “Guangqi’s branch of the Xus were not related to those who had passed the imperial examinations”. But as a reader pointed out, Xu Guangxi later held the post of Deputy Senior Grand Secretary, explained as “deputy premier for the imperial cabinet” — a very high rank, surely unattainable without family connections. So as usual, his rags-to-riches biography is likely a fairytale, and he actually was related to those Xus who held imperial posts. They were probably spook-aristocrats in their own right. I don’t know if it means anything, but the name Xu Guangxi even puns with 侐關係 xù guānxì “silent relations”.

Xu Guangqi lived in the 16th century, when he was collaborating with the Jesuits, likely to prepare China for joint looting with European spook families. He is thus a late example of Chinese pun-encryption and not proof for early Chinese spookery. He does cite many older works though, so I do not think that the Jesuits brought the concept of spookery to China, or the Phoenicians, or “ze Jews”. Rather, the ruling elites of all great civilizations had each developed their own version of spookery or proto-spookery. Whenever they then encountered each other, the spooky tendrils would likely connect seamlessly, to form the global mesh we have today. I therefore predict that we will also find homonym-encryption in more ancient Chinese texts. They will be harder to de-pun though, as the pronunciation may have changed considerably, and with it the homonymity.

One last note: Chinese language consists of very few phonemes, so it’s full of natural homonyms. My decryption is therefore also not watertight, as there are so many possibilities. It is merely a starting point and proof of concept that pun-encryption existed in many ancient cultures.

How to read the interlinear puns

The god of agriculture

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The multitudes of peasants shēn multitude 農事 nóngshì farming task shen nong shi   神農氏神農氏 shénnóngshì Farmer God The god of agricultureare managed & governed manage, govern control yue   yuē say told[by] hiding & bending the truth, yǎn hide, repress, bend truth yan di   炎帝炎帝 yándì Flame Emperors [the] flame emperor,[and] through by means of yi   by means of [to have] throughconfusion huò confuse, puzzled huo   huǒ fire firethe people mín people míng stupid ming   míng name nominateare controlled. guǎn control, manage guan   guān government official government officials.Wear zhuó wear (clothes), use, apply zhuo   zhuó chop, hack Choppeda curtain [veil] curtain, screen mu   wood woodas wéi as, by, become wei   wéi as, by, become becamethe self, personal seem, appear, resemble si   plow, plowshare a plowshare,the resembling róu flexible ruò seem, like, as, if rou   róu knead, rub crushed [??]curtain [veil] curtain, screen mu   wood woodbecomes wéi as, by, become wei   wéi as, by, become becamea semblance, lèi similar, like, resemble lei   lěi plow a plow,[for] resembling lèi similar, like, resemble lei   lěi plow the plowthe imbeciles / slaves nuò imbecile slave nou   nòu hoe, weed for hoeingit zhī him, it zhi   zhī him, it itcan be used, yòng use, employ yong   yòng use, employ could be used,by by means of yi   by means of bypretending [to be] jiǎo pretend, feign jiao   jiāo teach teaching [this]an everyman.萬人 wànrén everyman wan ren   萬人萬人 wànrén ten thousand people to thousands of people.One begins shǐ begin, start shi   shǐ begin, start It beganby pretending jiǎo pretend, feign jiao   jiāo teach by teachingto be honest, gěng honest, upright geng   gēng plow, till to plow,because reason, cause gu   reason, cause becausethis is desired hào desire hǎo good hao   hào mark, sign it was the symbol [?][by] the multitudes of peasants. shēn multitude 農事 nóngshì farming task shen nong shi   神農氏神農氏 shénnóngshì Farmer God of the god of agriculture.

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The “Discussions of Secrecy” [?]背後 bèihòu behind sb's back tōng communicate bai hu tong   白虎通 bái white tiger tōng communicate The “White Tiger Discussions”say: yún (classical) to say yun   yún (classical) to say say:Stubborn [are]固執 gùzhí obstinate, stubborn gu zhi   古之 old zhī him, it Of oldthe people,人民 rénmín people renmin   人民人民 rénmín people the people,known [to be]結識 jiéshí to get to know sb jie shi   皆食 jiē all shí food, eat all atebrutal beasts禽獸 qínshòu beast (brutal person) qin shou   禽獸禽獸 qínshòu birds and animals bird and animalin semblance. ruò to seem, like, as, if rou   ròu meat, flesh flesh.If you meet值遇 zhíyù to meet with, to bump into zhi yu   至於至於 zhìyú as for, as to [But] as forthe multitudes of peasants, shēn multitude nóng peasant shen nong   神農神農 shénnóng Farmer God of the god of agriculture,use yòng use yong   yòng use he [then] usedof sweetness tián sweet tian   tiān sky, heaven of the heavens  zhī him, it zhi   zhī him, it  an appearance, shì influence, outward appearance shi   shí time the times [seasons?],separate fēn divide, separate fen   fēn divide, separate to separate[from] the true truth di   earth, ground, field of the ground  zhī him, it zhi   zhī him, it  power, power, force li   advantage, benefit, profit the profits [harvests?],make [yourself] zhì make zhi   zhì make [he] madesimilar,類似 lèisì similar lei si   耒耜耒耜 lěisì plow the plow,feign [to be] jiǎo pretend, feign jiao   jiāo teach [and] taughta person mín people min   mín people the peopleof the countryside nóng peasant, agriculture nong   nóng peasant, agriculture of the countrysideto do it. zuò do zuo   zuò do [how] to do it.[Your] spirit shén God, deity, spirit shen   shén God, deity, spirit The godthus ér and, but, and so er   ér and, but, and so butchanges huà change into hua   huà change into changedinto it [?] zhī him, it zhi   zhī him, it into it [?],[to] let使 shǐ make, cause shi   使使 shǐ make, cause letthe people mín people min   mín people the peoplebe suppressed,抑制 yìzhì suppress, keep down yi zhi   宜之 proper zhī him, it properly [use] it,that is why reason, cause, therefore gu   reason, cause, therefore therefore[one] fakes wéi curtain, screen wěi false, fake wei   wèi speak, say, name [was] named[to be] of zhī him, it zhi   zhī him, it hethe multitudes of peasants. shēn multitude nóng peasant shen nong   神農神農 shénnóng Farmer God god of agriculture.

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🏷  Chinese · text